Still in my rearview mirror 03-11-2011

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Fanning Springs…much more than expected

By Rog Patterson

There are 160 state parks in Florida, sprawled over 70,000 acres. This is a visit to one of them.

We’d driven right by Fanning Springs State Park any number of times, but always in a hurry to get someplace else further up the road or anxious to be on our way back home again. So looking the springs over sounded like a good idea to my co-pilot when I suggested that as a day trip destination.

Fanning Springs is one of Florida’s 33 first magnitude springs, as are Rainbow Springs and Silver Springs in Marion County. Each day, this spring empties 65,000,000 gallons of water into the Suwannee River and, from there, it flows downstream for 23 miles into the Gulf of Mexico.

We really expected something much like Juniper Springs, and were in for some surprises. The spring swimming area is bounded by a “floating dock” with several entry ramps and a “jumping/diving spot” into deeper water. Safe swimming is provided for adults or kiddies in 72º fresh water all year long.

Leading off the dock is a ¾-mile system of sturdy boardwalks taking you around the spring stream banks as well as into the surrounding hardwood hammock, down to the Suwannee River bank or up to a group of picnic tables. Just a few steps along the boardwalk and you find yourself walking through a shaded forest primeval between enormous trees. Way down below are rows of cypress “knees” looking much like a solemn audience watching you stroll by. Well-placed signs along the boardwalk alert visitors to look for white-tailed deer, pileated woodpeckers, red-shouldered hawks or barred owls along the way. Other signs helpfully describe unusual floral sights like the Resurrection Fern hitching a ride up Live Oaks to reach sunlight. One sign also advised against dipping toes or more into the Suwannee River in deference to several resident alligators. However, we met several young men as they came out of the water who, while toweling off, told us they had just been swimming in the river with a manatee, so…?

Among the listed Fanning Springs activities, in addition to the obvious lure of swimming, is camping. With added attractions of fishing, snorkeling or scuba diving or reserving a canoe or kayak from Suwannee River Tours (352-490-9797), tent camping or available overnight cabins are popular. These two-bedroom, one-bathroom units provide a fully-equipped kitchen to accommodate up to seven people. (800-326-3521 for information or reservations.)

Taking U.S. 27 to Williston, continue to go straight and you’ll be on Alt. U.S. 27 (don’t follow 27 to Archer). Continue all the way to Chiefland, where you’ll turn north on U.S. 19 and U.S. 98, close enough to 65-miles at the park entrance we can call it exactly. Not far beyond the Dakotah Winery, the park entrance is a bit easy to drive by. So, as soon as you pass the Fanning Springs highway sign and see the road rise ahead crossing over the Suwannee River, keep a sharp lookout to your left. The park fee is only $6 for a car full. And you can always stop on your way home to relax at the Dakotah Winery’s back porch overlooking their Wood Duck preserve and perhaps sip a few current tasting options.